Originally published for The Edge’s album of the year countdown
Having gone from winning an Auckland school talent show and covering Pixie Lott in a radio session to selling 10 million copies of her debut single and being anointed by David Bowie as “the future of music” before she’d even had a moment spare to turn 17, it may come as no surprise that Ella Yelich-O’Connor opted to retreat towards normalcy as the Pure Heroine days wound down. Of course, sailing was not entirely plain: between incessant partying, herding idols like Kanye West and The Chemical Brothers for her Hunger Games soundtrack, taking helicopter rides into the wilderness to work on follow-up material, and covertly reviewing onion rings on Instagram came a painful breakup and a biting pop landscape eager to absorb her “incorrect” stylings.
Melodrama, the resulting Lorde record, comes rooted in that hedonistic habitat whilst trading the sprawling naïveté of (relative) youth for an affecting glare at heartbreak. A far cry from the days of ‘Tennis Court’ (“It’s a new artform showing people how little we care”), it is a remarkably bare concoction that pairs unorthodox pop competence with conscious overwrought feeling. Detail is superfluous to requirements, save for exposed piano ballad ‘Liability’ indulging in fame’s unceremonious responsibility for the theme (“The truth is I am a toy that people enjoy / ‘Til all of the tricks don’t work anymore / And then they are bored of me”), whilst the meeting of bitterness and a euphoric yearning for escape that is impeccable lead single and album opener ‘Green Light’ serves as a mostly upbeat red herring.
Emboldened through close collaboration across everything bar ‘Homemade Dynamite’ with Jack Antonoff, whose acclaimed songwriting with his bands Bleachers and fun. has also led to extensive work on two more of 2017’s finest efforts in Taylor Swift’s reputation and St. Vincent’s MASSEDUCTION, Melodrama pushes Lorde into new directions with aplomb, like the orchestral grandeur of “deflated room” moment ‘Sober II (Melodrama)’ and impassioned, hyperbolic enshrining of the relationship’s death (‘Writer In The Dark’). Pure Heroine companion Joel Little makes a return for ‘Supercut,’ a retrospective that pivots from rose-tinted vigour into brief quivering anguish and a ‘Liability’ reprise that she describes as a sibling to ‘Ribs,’ meanwhile ‘Homemade Dynamite’ and ‘The Louvre’ – both rare moments where the subtext slumbers away for more fond recollection – benefit from Tove Lo’s writing for a party thrill and Flume’s tectonic pulses respectively.
Lorde embellishes the package with the sort of understandable juvenile theatrics inferred by the title, alluding regularly to death, violence, and destruction in her hushed, resonant precision (“We’ll end up painted on the road / Red and chrome / All the broken glass sparkling,” “She thinks you love the beach, you’re such a damn liar / Well those great whites, they have big teeth / Hope they bite you / Thought you said that you would always be in love”) as brass lines flare and delicate guitars dwell harmoniously with swirling electronic platforms and crisp percussion. In the polycephalous midpoint ‘Hard Feelings/Loveless’ all comes to a head, with a Paul Simon interjection bridging songs of intimate breakup flashbacks and wry robotic lamentations on generational perceptions. That’s what Melodrama does best: far from being another instalment of precocious adolescence, its maturity in memorialising fleeting, relatable extremes makes an album that, despite what she described as its “hermetically sealed” thematic nature, is worthy of 2017’s greatest honours.
Released on June 16th via Virgin EMI